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Farmers prepare for early harvest with less corn

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Fall harvest is a familiar ritual on area farms. But this year, the corn harvest will start much earlier than usual.

Combines will be rolling through fields in coming days. That's as the 2012 harvest gets a head start. Extreme weather is pushing the calendar for corn.

"We have a double whammy of early planting dates and more heat units," said agronomist Marty Johnson. "It's just finishing the crop up quickly."

Some of the region's best looking corn is at the University of Illinois Research and Demonstration Farm in Monmouth. But within the fields, some ears illustrate drought damage. That results in smaller ears with fewer kernels.

"What happened is we were in a hot, dry spell," Johnson said. "It just didn't pollinate every possible spot that it could."

The latest USDA crop report rates nearly three-quarters of Illinois corn as poor to very poor. That will make an early harvest even less rewarding statewide.

The test farm harvest brought in about 210 bushels per acre last year. This year, it will drop to nearly 170 bushels. That's much better off than many areas.

"It's all about kernels per acre," Johnson said. "Kernels per acre make bushels per acre."

While abnormally dry conditions will produce the lowest national corn crop in six years, there is a silver lining for farmers who are able to harvest.

"We aren't going to have big lines at our elevators this year," Johnson said. "That's because the corn coming in will be dry."

As combines start moving again, it's going to be an early and challenging corn harvest.